POLITICS
The Kissinger Debate
by Timothy Carter
2016-03-11 08:00:00
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came into conflict over the record of longtime Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. After being mentored by Kissinger for many years, Hillary became attached to him; Bernie isn't a fan.

In the most unexpected interchange of the Democratic debate on Thursday, February 12th, the true nature and objectives of both candidates were revealed when the name Henry Kissinger arose as Hillary Clinton tried to validate her abilities as Secretary of State.

Senator Bernie Sanders quickly took advantage of the situation and used Hillary’s statements as support for his ongoing narrative that Hillary is too deeply embedded in the political establishment and too moderate. Within this attack lies the true difference between the two candidates. Hillary Clinton’s résumé oozes experience and establishment while Bernie Sanders’ main message is a rejection of the political status quo and special interests.

Hillary has a long history with the former Secretary of State, which allows Bernie to connect her to the corrupt Nixon era, U.S. meddling in foreign affairs, proxy wars, the Vietnam war, and, as a natural continuation of that idea, the war in Iraq, which she voted for while in the Senate. Kissinger’s relationship to the Washington elite extends far beyond Hillary Clinton. He served as a national security advisor under Kennedy and also as Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations. His experience and prominence during the years of the Cold War and Vietnam War has granted him a reputation as an American foreign policy hero. Today he has inherited a “yoda-like” status in Washington, praising and placing credibility on rising politicians, including Hillary Clinton. Kissinger was a conservative Republican, but he is known to give praise regardless of political party with only concern to the politicians’ merits. He is still regarded as a legendary figure, especially by elite Washington media. Specific to Hillary Clinton, Kissinger traded e-mails with her during her years as Secretary of State. Kissinger offered “astute observations about foreign leaders” as well as “written reports on his travels.” In the debate, Clinton called Kissinger “a friend” and has said that she admired the way he dealt with China during the Cold War. More recently, Clinton used Henry Kissinger to convince President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to apologize to Turkey for Turkish deaths in the Gaza Strip. Clinton’s relationship to Kissinger obviously goes beyond a “friendship.” In fact, Clinton sees him as a mentor, seeking his approval often, as well as formally using him in political affairs.

However, Clinton’s relationship to Kissinger alone is not the reason for the controversy. Rather, to know why Bernie Sanders suddenly shifted into offensive mode, you must know the criticisms, successes, and controversies that surround one of the most infamous diplomats of the 20th Century.

Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State from September 1973 to January 1977. Today, he is ranked by scholars as the most effective Secretary of State of the last 50 years; however, several activist and human rights lawyers have sought his prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kissinger’s most highly recognized accomplishment was the opening of diplomatic relations with China during the Cold War through an ultra-secret mission negotiated via the Pakistani government under the Nixon administration. Then, because of his efforts in the Paris Peace Accords to reach “an agreement with honor” (in the words of Richard Nixon) in asserting peace in Vietnam, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, Kissinger reached out to the Soviet Union and helped engineer the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) agreement as well as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Such accomplishments established his dominance in U.S. foreign affairs during his time in office. He is known to be a proponent of realpolitik, a political ideology that encourages decision-making based on the state’s interests only rather than a strict moral or ethical code. Just as his reputation is stacked with successful negotiations, his résumé also bears the weight of 3-4 million deaths (according to The Nation).

First, Kissinger is counted with allowing, and in some cases encouraging, genocide in Bangladesh and East Timor. In Bangladesh, Kissinger’s goal was to maintain anti-communist governments in the area. He did that by supporting a local dictator, Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan. In 1971, Bengali nationals in the eastern portion of Pakistan threatened Yahya's power by trying to impose a communist candidate in the Pakistani election. In response, Kissinger met with Yahya and promised to support him and supply him with weapons as he decided to move his army into Bangladesh, later slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Bengalis. In East Timor, Kissinger had similar motivations; he and President Gerald Ford needed allies in the region after the peace treaty in Vietnam failed, which allowed communist governments to thrive. They met with President Suharto of Indonesia on the day before the invasion of East Timor, a neighboring territory that he desired. Ford and Kissinger convinced Suharto to hold off on the invasion until Ford and Kissinger had made it back to Washington. The next day, with Kissinger and Ford safely on U.S. soil, President Suharto slaughtered one third of the population in East Timor.

In 1969, Nixon and Kissinger launched a massive B-52 bombing campaign in Cambodia that killed roughly 600,000 people. They failed to seek congressional approval and attempted to cover it up. The result was that many Cambodian civilians began to support Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge Rebels, two merciless communist groups in Vietnam. With the support of the public after the U.S. bombing, Khmer Rouge Rebels took over the government and eventually became responsible for 1 million deaths, both by genocide and by starvation.

The Cambodian bombing is not the only criticized method in Vietnam that Kissinger employed. In fact, many believe that Kissinger unnecessarily prolonged the Vietnam War. Ordered by Nixon to seek “peace with honor,” Kissinger could not agree to peace terms in Vietnam in 1969, and 5 years of fighting ensued before he successfully reached an agreement in 1973. Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his efforts at the Paris Peace Accords. However, more controversy surrounded this decision; two members of the Prize committee resigned after Kissinger received the award. Also, the joint winner, Lê Đức Thọ, a Vietnamese revolutionary, diplomat, and general, refused to accept the award because he felt that peace was not truly achieved in Vietnam.

Later, in 1976, Kissinger authorized the Argentinian government to undertake a ruthless crackdown on political dissenters, promising that Argentina would not be pursued by American human rights prosecutors. What ensued was called the “Dirty War” in Argentina, and roughly 30,000 people died. Argentina never faced any human rights questioning. Also in South America, Kissinger has been blamed for the facilitation of the overthrow of the Chilean government in 1974, which led to the rise of the brutal dictator Pinochet.

In summary, Kissinger is credited with restoring diplomatic relations in China, ameliorating America’s relationship with Russia in the Cold War, and ending the Vietnam War. However, he is also cited for allowing two major genocides in East Timor and Bangladesh, helping the dictator Pinochet ascend to the Chilean presidency, possibly prolonging the Vietnam War, and undertaking an illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia, leading to the growth of Khmer Rouge Rebels in Vietnam.

Bernie Sanders has plenty of evidence to suggest that Kissinger would not be a great mentor to a potential president. In addition, Sanders can claim that Kissinger is exactly the type of person from whom he would stay far away. Sanders exclaimed during a debate, “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” The loudest public critic of Secretary Kissinger, however, is not Senator Sanders; it is author Christopher Hitchens, writer of “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” (Editor’s Fun Fact: Christopher Hitchens was also a frequent guest on Bill Buckley’s Firing Line. The economics essays included in this issue were written partly for the celebration of that show’s 50th anniversary). The book takes a prosecutorial approach, deeply investigating Kissinger’s involvement in East Timor, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Chile, and Argentina. The late Hitchens writes that Kissinger deserved to be charged with “conspiracy to commit murder, torture, and kidnapping,” as well as “crimes against humanity.” Hitchens calls the case of Henry Kissinger as a “lay down” case, meaning that it is one that stands out for its clear facts and clear law. In other words, Kissinger’s crimes could not be more apparent in legal standards. In the book, Hitchens also uses the authority of General Telford Taylor, a major prosecutor at the Nuremberg tribunal, to judge Kissinger. In particular, Hitchens uses Taylor’s judgments at Nuremberg to assert the illegality of Nixon and Kissinger’s actions in Laos and Cambodia. Ultimately, Hitchens’ words inspire the reader to accept and demand the possibility of a trial by law of Kissinger’s crimes.

Bernie Sanders is far too preoccupied to be demanding a proper judgement of one of Washington’s untouchable elites. However, Sanders is able to assign Kissinger’s war crimes to Clinton’s reputation, or at least, to expose her as a believer in the corrupt section of the establishment. Although Clinton can make a rebuttal that she is being mentored by the man who opened China and perhaps saved the fate of the country in the Cold War, due to the SALT act and others, she is nevertheless in danger of being associated with Kissinger’s negative reputation. However, retroactively judging Kissinger based on today’s foreign affairs gives him an unnecessary stigma. Hillary Clinton, and to a point, John Kerry, as Secretaries of State, did not have issues as grave as ameliorating relations with Russia in the Cold War or dealing with hardened Chinese diplomats to open their country to the American markets. Senator Sanders’ criticisms have their factual basis, but his foreign policy agenda will also not include the toughest problems of the last 75 years.

In addition, much of Kissinger’s deteriorated reputation is a result of his association to the Vietnam War era as a whole. Basically every member of the executive and congressional administration during the war was wildly unpopular. Ironically, the current Secretary of State famously testified in front of the Senate as part of the Vietnam Veterans against the War organization, saying, “We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us” and “how many more people must die?” Overall, investigators like Christopher Hitchens have published relatively new evidence on Kissinger’s involvement in genocides and illegal bombing campaigns, but the older narrative of Kissinger’s failures has been perpetuated by people like John Kerry and those criticizing the Nixon administration.

Bernie Sanders identifies with those who criticize Kissinger because of his more recently discovered atrocities, and his strategy poses major problems for the Clinton campaign. Kissinger, as a member of Washington’s “old breed,” again isolates Clinton as a candidate that may not be able to identify with the youth, a group that may not know the full story of Henry Kissinger but that hears the words of Sanders and immediately jumps to conclusions based on his interpretation of the secretary's career. Although the debate about Kissinger’s legacy may have passed and may not be brought up in further debates, it illuminates the central divide between the two candidates: Clinton’s connection to the experienced establishment and oftentimes the older voters as opposed to Sanders’ railing against the corrupt establishment, gaining the support of the easily swayed youth and hardcore left.



The Kissinger Debate

In the most unexpected interchange of the Democratic debate on Thursday, February 12th, the true nature and objectives of both candidates were revealed when the name Henry Kissinger arose as Hillary Clinton tried to validate her abilities as Secretary of State.

Senator Bernie Sanders quickly took advantage of the situation and used Hillary’s statements as support for his ongoing narrative that Hillary is too deeply embedded in the political establishment and too moderate. Within this attack lies the true difference between the two candidates. Hillary Clinton’s résumé oozes experience and establishment while Bernie Sanders’ main message is a rejection of the political status quo and special interests.

Hillary has a long history with the former Secretary of State, which allows Bernie to connect her to the corrupt Nixon era, U.S. meddling in foreign affairs, proxy wars, the Vietnam war, and, as a natural continuation of that idea, the war in Iraq, which she voted for while in the Senate. Kissinger’s relationship to the Washington elite extends far beyond Hillary Clinton. He served as a national security advisor under Kennedy and also as Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations. His experience and prominence during the years of the Cold War and Vietnam War has granted him a reputation as an American foreign policy hero. Today he has inherited a “yoda-like” status in Washington, praising and placing credibility on rising politicians, including Hillary Clinton. Kissinger was a conservative Republican, but he is known to give praise regardless of political party with only concern to the politicians’ merits. He is still regarded as a legendary figure, especially by elite Washington media. Specific to Hillary Clinton, Kissinger traded e-mails with her during her years as Secretary of State. Kissinger offered “astute observations about foreign leaders” as well as “written reports on his travels.” In the debate, Clinton called Kissinger “a friend” and has said that she admired the way he dealt with China during the Cold War. More recently, Clinton used Henry Kissinger to convince President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to apologize to Turkey for Turkish deaths in the Gaza Strip. Clinton’s relationship to Kissinger obviously goes beyond a “friendship.” In fact, Clinton sees him as a mentor, seeking his approval often, as well as formally using him in political affairs.

However, Clinton’s relationship to Kissinger alone is not the reason for the controversy. Rather, to know why Bernie Sanders suddenly shifted into offensive mode, you must know the criticisms, successes, and controversies that surround one of the most infamous diplomats of the 20th Century.

Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State from September 1973 to January 1977. Today, he is ranked by scholars as the most effective Secretary of State of the last 50 years; however, several activist and human rights lawyers have sought his prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kissinger’s most highly recognized accomplishment was the opening of diplomatic relations with China during the Cold War through an ultra-secret mission negotiated via the Pakistani government under the Nixon administration. Then, because of his efforts in the Paris Peace Accords to reach “an agreement with honor” (in the words of Richard Nixon) in asserting peace in Vietnam, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, Kissinger reached out to the Soviet Union and helped engineer the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) agreement as well as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Such accomplishments established his dominance in U.S. foreign affairs during his time in office. He is known to be a proponent of realpolitik, a political ideology that encourages decision-making based on the state’s interests only rather than a strict moral or ethical code. Just as his reputation is stacked with successful negotiations, his résumé also bears the weight of 3-4 million deaths (according to The Nation).

First, Kissinger is counted with allowing, and in some cases encouraging, genocide in Bangladesh and East Timor. In Bangladesh, Kissinger’s goal was to maintain anti-communist governments in the area. He did that by supporting a local dictator, Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan. In 1971, Bengali nationals in the eastern portion of Pakistan threatened Yahya's power by trying to impose a communist candidate in the Pakistani election. In response, Kissinger met with Yahya and promised to support him and supply him with weapons as he decided to move his army into Bangladesh, later slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Bengalis. In East Timor, Kissinger had similar motivations; he and President Gerald Ford needed allies in the region after the peace treaty in Vietnam failed, which allowed communist governments to thrive. They met with President Suharto of Indonesia on the day before the invasion of East Timor, a neighboring territory that he desired. Ford and Kissinger convinced Suharto to hold off on the invasion until Ford and Kissinger had made it back to Washington. The next day, with Kissinger and Ford safely on U.S. soil, President Suharto slaughtered one third of the population in East Timor.

In 1969, Nixon and Kissinger launched a massive B-52 bombing campaign in Cambodia that killed roughly 600,000 people. They failed to seek congressional approval and attempted to cover it up. The result was that many Cambodian civilians began to support Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge Rebels, two merciless communist groups in Vietnam. With the support of the public after the U.S. bombing, Khmer Rouge Rebels took over the government and eventually became responsible for 1 million deaths, both by genocide and by starvation.

The Cambodian bombing is not the only criticized method in Vietnam that Kissinger employed. In fact, many believe that Kissinger unnecessarily prolonged the Vietnam War. Ordered by Nixon to seek “peace with honor,” Kissinger could not agree to peace terms in Vietnam in 1969, and 5 years of fighting ensued before he successfully reached an agreement in 1973. Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his efforts at the Paris Peace Accords. However, more controversy surrounded this decision; two members of the Prize committee resigned after Kissinger received the award. Also, the joint winner, Lê Đức Thọ, a Vietnamese revolutionary, diplomat, and general, refused to accept the award because he felt that peace was not truly achieved in Vietnam.

Later, in 1976, Kissinger authorized the Argentinian government to undertake a ruthless crackdown on political dissenters, promising that Argentina would not be pursued by American human rights prosecutors. What ensued was called the “Dirty War” in Argentina, and roughly 30,000 people died. Argentina never faced any human rights questioning. Also in South America, Kissinger has been blamed for the facilitation of the overthrow of the Chilean government in 1974, which led to the rise of the brutal dictator Pinochet.

In summary, Kissinger is credited with restoring diplomatic relations in China, ameliorating America’s relationship with Russia in the Cold War, and ending the Vietnam War. However, he is also cited for allowing two major genocides in East Timor and Bangladesh, helping the dictator Pinochet ascend to the Chilean presidency, possibly prolonging the Vietnam War, and undertaking an illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia, leading to the growth of Khmer Rouge Rebels in Vietnam.

Bernie Sanders has plenty of evidence to suggest that Kissinger would not be a great mentor to a potential president. In addition, Sanders can claim that Kissinger is exactly the type of person from whom he would stay far away. Sanders exclaimed during a debate, “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” The loudest public critic of Secretary Kissinger, however, is not Senator Sanders; it is author Christopher Hitchens, writer of “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” (Editor’s Fun Fact: Christopher Hitchens was also a frequent guest on Bill Buckley’s Firing Line. The economics essays included in this issue were written partly for the celebration of that show’s 50th anniversary). The book takes a prosecutorial approach, deeply investigating Kissinger’s involvement in East Timor, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Chile, and Argentina. The late Hitchens writes that Kissinger deserved to be charged with “conspiracy to commit murder, torture, and kidnapping,” as well as “crimes against humanity.” Hitchens calls the case of Henry Kissinger as a “lay down” case, meaning that it is one that stands out for its clear facts and clear law. In other words, Kissinger’s crimes could not be more apparent in legal standards. In the book, Hitchens also uses the authority of General Telford Taylor, a major prosecutor at the Nuremberg tribunal, to judge Kissinger. In particular, Hitchens uses Taylor’s judgments at Nuremberg to assert the illegality of Nixon and Kissinger’s actions in Laos and Cambodia. Ultimately, Hitchens’ words inspire the reader to accept and demand the possibility of a trial by law of Kissinger’s crimes.

Bernie Sanders is far too preoccupied to be demanding a proper judgement of one of Washington’s untouchable elites. However, Sanders is able to assign Kissinger’s war crimes to Clinton’s reputation, or at least, to expose her as a believer in the corrupt section of the establishment. Although Clinton can make a rebuttal that she is being mentored by the man who opened China and perhaps saved the fate of the country in the Cold War, due to the SALT act and others, she is nevertheless in danger of being associated with Kissinger’s negative reputation. However, retroactively judging Kissinger based on today’s foreign affairs gives him an unnecessary stigma. Hillary Clinton, and to a point, John Kerry, as Secretaries of State, did not have issues as grave as ameliorating relations with Russia in the Cold War or dealing with hardened Chinese diplomats to open their country to the American markets. Senator Sanders’ criticisms have their factual basis, but his foreign policy agenda will also not include the toughest problems of the last 75 years.

In addition, much of Kissinger’s deteriorated reputation is a result of his association to the Vietnam War era as a whole. Basically every member of the executive and congressional administration during the war was wildly unpopular. Ironically, the current Secretary of State famously testified in front of the Senate as part of the Vietnam Veterans against the War organization, saying, “We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us” and “how many more people must die?” Overall, investigators like Christopher Hitchens have published relatively new evidence on Kissinger’s involvement in genocides and illegal bombing campaigns, but the older narrative of Kissinger’s failures has been perpetuated by people like John Kerry and those criticizing the Nixon administration.

Bernie Sanders identifies with those who criticize Kissinger because of his more recently discovered atrocities, and his strategy poses major problems for the Clinton campaign. Kissinger, as a member of Washington’s “old breed,” again isolates Clinton as a candidate that may not be able to identify with the youth, a group that may not know the full story of Henry Kissinger but that hears the words of Sanders and immediately jumps to conclusions based on his interpretation of the secretary's career. Although the debate about Kissinger’s legacy may have passed and may not be brought up in further debates, it illuminates the central divide between the two candidates: Clinton’s connection to the experienced establishment and oftentimes the older voters as opposed to Sanders’ railing against the corrupt establishment, gaining the support of the easily swayed youth and hardcore left.